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The Reason Ad Folks are Unhappy

In the Mad Men television series, Harry Crane of Sterling Cooper helps out Paul Kinsey, a former colleague. Kinsey lost his copywriting position at the agency and went on to successively fail at McCann, Y&R, K&E, and B&B before going in-house at grocer A&P. When that didn’t work out he joined the Hare Krishna.

Crane is largely an unsympathetic person but he shows empathy for Kinsey. Crane says to Peggy Olson, “Don’t you know how lucky we are?” Crane cannot believe his hare-krishna-diner-mad-men-640x448own good fortune in the agency world. This episode and much of the series examines those in advertising who make it and those who do not. Mad Men beats up the profession while simultaneously aggrandizing the ad world.

The show profiled tensions and issues that persist to this day. A big one is employee morale. CampaignUS recently shone the light on growing unhappiness. On October 24, 2016 they published their 2nd Annual Morale Survey.

It found that nearly half of agency employees suffer from poor morale. Forty-seven percent of employees rated their morale as either “low” (31%) or “dangerously low” (16%). That is up 36% from the previous year. As alarming is the fact that 63% of those claiming poor morale were actively job-hunting. One assumes that means not switching to another agency.

On the same day (a cool coincidence) Advertising Age published an article titled, These Are the 50 Companies Creatives Would ‘Kill to Work for Full Time’. It covered the survey conducted by Working Not Working. Twenty-four of the fifty companies identified were not agencies.

Creative folks would much rather be at Vice, Spotify, Tesla, National Geographic, or Nike over McCann, JWT, Leo Burnett, Y&R, or Ogilvy.

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Ad Agencies Confuse Public Relations with Branding

Perhaps we can lay blame on the Creative Revolution in advertising from the early 1960s. That era of broadcast communications produced, on a relative basis, the largest volume of advertising we have ever seen. It is viewed as the pinnacle of Madison Avenue’s influence. At the same time, the public relations profession was having its own golden days. The masters of spin were as sought after as the martini-soaked mad men (apologies for reinforcing the stereotype).

Soon competition among ad agencies grew in the late 1960s and the phone stopped ringing. Work dried up so agencies turned to their public relations cousins for help. From the mid ‘60s on, this meant pumping out press releases and cultivating media to cover agency activities. Most of this trumpeted new business wins and awards gained at the ever-increasing number of shows. This contributed no real or meaningful differentiation especially given all agencies followed the same playbook. The biggest innovation agencies introduced in subsequent decades was hiring public relations professionals to work in-house.

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Jeff Talks Agency Strategy in Advertising Age

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What Digital Agency Clients, Staff and Lead

 

ers Say in Private
These Shops Market Themselves as Hip, but They’re Actually Pretty Old-School
By: Jeff Swystun

Digital agencies enjoy a reputation of being cool, cutting-edge and creative. They even have a bit of a bad-boy persona because they talk about challenging the status quo. Their offices are hip and their employees are hipsters. They are positioned as the future of marketing and advertising.

In the past year I have consulted to six digital agencies on branding and marketing. Between them they operate in over 12 countries, employing over 2,000. The results are revealing. First up is the dissatisfaction among employees. This cannot be attributed solely to the stereotypical millennial, because,many who shared these experiences were over 35. Comments included:

“We lecture clients about technology when our time and expense sheets are manual.”

“Fun perks promised are always sacrificed because of proposals or client work. I understand business is business, but don’t promise it if you only hand it out when convenient.” Read more

Social Media is All About the Details

Social media is an ongoing experiment that continues to perplex many companies. The challenging (and fun) part of social media has been figuring out if, where, and how a company should play. The variables are a veritable Rubik’s Cube of choices.

Many companies think they nailed the strategy but fail to anticipate the day-to-day details. This is why countless efforts crash or disappoint. Shocking too, is how little this is mentioned by the experts who prefer to tantalize with metrics of social media’s use.

We assisted a North American law firm on their marketing strategy, a subset being social media. The work has retaught a lesson: if you choose to go for something, really go for it. To their credit, this firm decided to pursue, for their industry, an aggressive social media strategy.

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‘Top-Drawer’ Business Books 2012

It is that time of year again when media is flooded with predictions for the coming year and retrospectives on the year ending. A related practice is to put together a ‘top ten’ or ‘best of category’ list.

Through the years, I have contributed “best” business and marketing book list for various websites and magazines. Those opportunities were flattering but I was never completely comfortable labelling any book “best”. So in recent years, I assemble my own annual list.

I call my book selections ‘Top-Drawer’. This tongue-in-cheek title is meant to describe books that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, well written, practical, thought-provoking, and innovative. Many are ones you may not have connected directly with business and that is the ultimate benefit of this list.

Life is too short to drink cheap scotch – equally so there is precious little time to tolerate books that are not ‘Top-Drawer’. Last year 13 made the list while this year 12 did with one to look for that will be published on December 31. Enjoy and I look forward to feedback on the selections that follow in no particular order. Read more

Branding and Superstorm Sandy

Jeff comments on how brands respond to a disaster in USA Today

Businesses Step Up to Aid Victims of Superstorm Sandy

by Laura Petrecca

Many businesses are helping, but those that don’t come across as sincere in their aid efforts — and appear to be usatodaynewlogocapitalizing on a tragic situation — can raise consumer ire.

November 3. 2012 – Duracell’s “Power Forward” centers give Hurricane Sandy’s electricity-less victims the chance to charge phones, as well as to grab free batteries for flashlights.

Anheuser-Busch switched a line at its Cartersville, Ga., brewery from beer to potable water to produce more than a million cans of emergency drinking water for those in need.

Lakeside Fitness Club in Oakland, N.J., offered everyone in the community warm showers, hot coffee and the ability to get some stress relief with a workout. Read more

Country Branding Challenges

The following article comes from The Smithsonian. It mentions the slogan of Chile, Allways Surprising, work I was happy to lead while at Interbrand. I remain proud to have coined the slogan for a truly diverse and surprising country. It was a tremendous project originally meant only for Chilean exports but was soon purloined by other government departments.

I appreciate the tone and content of the article … any place branding is received with great scepticism and jadedness. You are lucky to please 20% of constituents with anything that is developed. It takes a commitment to reinforce the branding for years as there is never a home run in such efforts. Here is the article. Read more

The Origins of “Marketing”

“To Market, To Market”, so goes the nursery rhyme first referenced in 1598. It was passed from generation to generation for two hundred years until printed in Songs for the Nursery in 1805. As a result, it spread and it is thought that families changed the words producing relevant variations. My favorite stanza from the documented version is:

“To market, to market, to buy a plum cake; Home again, home again, market is late. To market, to market, to buy a plum bun; Home again, home again, market is done.”

 Light and fanciful, it ironically communicates shopping frustration: the market does not open on time and then is unexpectedly closed. Yet beckons the consumer as an early advertisement for a range of goods including plum cakes and buns along with hogs and pigs. Read more

Choice & Clutter

The average American supermarket now carries 48,750 items, according to the Food Marketing Institute, more than five times the number in 1975. Britain’s Tesco stocks 91 different shampoos, 93 varieties of toothpaste and 115 of household cleaner.

In addition to the range of choice in even the most basic brand categories, consumers receive over 5,000 media messages a day containing over 100,564 words. So in my opinion, the most important metric in the next ten years will be how many messages consumers choose NOT to see on a daily basis.

We are creating consumers with such thick skins and blinders that messages bounce off them – we are training them to ignore and disengage which is exactly the opposite of our objective.

In response to choice, many brand owners are now taking steps to rationalize their brand portfolios to simplify and reduce cannibalization. According to Sheena Iyengar in The Art of Choosing, Procter & Gamble once thinned its range of Head & Shoulders shampoos from 26 to 15, and sales increased by 10%. Then they slowly began building up the sub-brands again in a non-sensical cycle or ‘more is more’.

Regarding communications clutter, Canadian media maven Marshall McLuhan presciently stated in the 1960’s, “One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with.”

In the next ten years, we will see cycles of brand proliferation and rationalization with corresponding communication cycles. So the brands that simplify people’s lives and speak honestly will stand a better chance of success than those who do not credit the growing power of the consumer, the stresses they are encountering, and how that will impact their choices.

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